When we think about cholesterol problems, we tend to think about the issues associated with high cholesterol, which is usually associated with heart disease.
The fatty substance, known as cholesterol, can clog up your arteries, interfering with blood flow and leading to a heart attack or stroke.
However, high cholesterol levels are not the only thing that can cause health issues; low cholesterol can also – although it is much less common. Low cholesterol is a factor in medical conditions such as anxiety, cancer and depression.
What is cholesterol?
Although we often associate cholesterol with health issues, it is also something our bodies need. Cholesterol is a vital component of many hormones and is used to make Vitamin D – which helps us absorb calcium. It also plays a role in making the substances we require to digest food.
Cholesterol travels through the body in our blood through lipoproteins (tiny molecules of fat wrapped in protein). There are two main types of cholesterol:
- Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL)- “bad cholesterol” that can clog your arteries.
- High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) – “good cholesterol” that helps bring LDL from the bloodstream to the liver, where it is then removed from the body
What are the dangers associated with low cholesterol?
Regular exercise, a healthy diet, and medications such as statins can lower high cholesterol levels. If you lower your cholesterol levels using these methods, there shouldn’t be a problem; however, if your cholesterol falls for no apparent reason, you should take notice of this and discuss it with your doctor.
While research is still undergoing on precisely what impact low levels of cholesterol have on our health, there is a belief that it can harm mental health. For example, a study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research found that depressed men with low cholesterol levels were seven times more likely to die prematurely from unnatural causes such as suicide or accidents. This could be because cholesterol is involved in making hormones and Vitamin D, so low cholesterol levels may affect your brain’s health – although this is still being researched.
Other studies have found potential links between low cholesterol and cancer risk, but more research is needed.
What are the symptoms of low cholesterol?
People with high cholesterol levels often suffer no symptoms until a stroke or heart attack occurs – although they may feel chest pain due to reduced blood flow to the heart muscle if there is a severe blockage.
With low cholesterol, there will be no chest pain as fatty substances won’t build up in the arteries.
If you are suffering from anxiety or depression, it may be due to low cholesterol levels – among other things. Symptoms of anxiety and depression can include:
- changes in your mood, sleeping and eating patterns
- difficulty in making a decision
So, if you are experiencing one or more of the above symptoms, you should see your doctor.
What are the risk factors for low cholesterol?
Risk factors for low cholesterol include:
- being on statins
- having a family history of the condition
- having untreated clinical depression
- other blood pressure treatment programs
How is low cholesterol diagnosed?
A blood test is the only way to determine your cholesterol levels. If your LDL cholesterol level is less than 50 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or your total cholesterol is lower than 120 mg/dL, you have low cholesterol.